Archive for algorithmic policing

Hippocratic oath for maths?

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2019 by xi'an

On a free day in Nachi-Taksuura, I came across this call for a professional oath for mathematicians (and computer engineers and scientists in related fields). By UCL mathematician Hannah Fry. The theme is the same as with Weapons of math destruction, namely that algorithms have a potentially huge impact on everyone’s life and that those who design these algorithms should be accountable for it. And aware of the consequences when used by non-specialists. As illustrated by preventive justice software. And child abuse prediction software. Some form of ethics course should indeed appear in data science programs, for at least pointing out the limitations of automated decision making. However, I remain skeptical of the idea as (a) taking an oath does not mean an impossibility to breaking that oath, especially when one is blissfully unaware of breaking it (b) acting as ethically as possible should be part of everyone’s job, whether when designing deep learning algorithms or making soba noodles (c) the Hippocratic oath is mostly a moral statement that varies from place to place and from an epoch to the next (as, e.g., with respect to abortion which was prohibited in Hippocrates’ version) and does not prevent some doctors from engaging into unsavory activities. Or getting influenced by dug companies. And such an oath would not force companies to open-source their code, which in my opinion is a better way towards the assessment of such algorithms. The article does not mention either the Montréal Déclaration for a responsible AI, which goes further than a generic and most likely ineffective oath.

impossible estimation

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2018 by xi'an

Outside its Sciences & Médecine section that I most often read, Le Monde published last weekend a tribune by the anthropologist Michel Naepels [who kindly replied to my email on his column] on the impossibility to evaluate the number of deaths in Congo due to the political instability (a weak and undemocratic state fighting armed rebel groups), for lack of a reliable sample. With a huge gap between two estimations of this number, from 200,000 to 5.4 million excess deaths. In the later, IRC states that “only 0.4 percent of all deaths across DR Congo were attributed directly to violence”. Still, diverging estimates do not mean numbers are impossible to produce, just that more elaborate methods like those developed by Rebecca Steorts for Syrian deaths must be investigated. Which requires more means than those available to the local States (assuming they are interested in the answer) or to NGOs. This also raises the question whether or not “excess deaths” has an absolute meaning, since it refers to an hypothetical state of the world that has not taken place.

On the same page, another article written by geographers shed doubt on predictive policing software, not used in France, if not so clearly as in the Significance article by Kristian Lum and William Isaac last year.

Nature snapshot

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on March 5, 2017 by xi'an

The recent issue of Nature, as of Jan 26, 2017!, contained a cartload of interesting review and coverage articles, from the latest version of the quantum computer D-Wave, with a paragraph on quantum annealing that reminded me of a recent arXiv paper I could not understand, seemingly turning the mathematical problem of multivariate optimisation into a truly physical process, to the continuing (Nature-wise) debate on how to oppose Trump, to the biases and shortcomings of policing software, with a mention of Lum and Isaac I discussed here a few months ago, to the unsuspected difficulty to publish a referee’s report when the publisher is Elsevier (unsuspected and unsurprising!)—although I know of colleagues and authors disapproving my publishing referee’s reports identified as such—, to an amazing picture of a bundle of neurons monitored simultaneously, to an entry in the career section on scientific computing and the importance of coding for young investigators, with R at the forefront!